Wednesday, February 28, 2007

AV Club interview with Ricky Gervais, incl his thoughts on creative control

AV Club interview (single page version)with Ricky Gervais, co-creator of 'The Office' and 'Extras', from Jan 10 2007.

Two answers on 'creative control' I wanted to note:

AVC: How do you establish that kind of creative control?
RG: I just demand it. I just simply wouldn't do anything that I wasn't terribly in charge of. I don't let anything go. I worry about the font on the back of the DVD, and I'll do this as long as that continues. Even if it does continue, I could still get bored with that, but I certainly wouldn't compromise anything.

AVC: When you're working on something, do you ever have to struggle to tell the difference between comedy that can succeed commercially and what you think is good?
RG: Never. It doesn't come into it. We only do what we think is good and what we're happy with. I do that in stand-up, I even do it with my children's books. I don't do market research, I don't have focus groups, I don't care. I don't care if it fails, honestly. I'd rather have something that's completely mine fail than something succeed that I'm not proud of.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Debatepedia (about, FAQ). Kinda like wikipedia, but rather than emphasising neutrality, it emphasises the differences in positions on contentious topics, providing a structured way for each side of the argument to be presented. Much like the (seemingly) unrelated OpenDebateEngine I mentioned last year.

Will be interesting to see how well it works.

Some recent Signal vs Noise posts on communication

Some recent Signal vs Noise posts on communication:

1) and 2)

Both of these concern Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

1) is about the usefulness of counterintuitive-seeming statements, for getting people's attention.

2) looks the book's notion of "the Curse of Knowledge." They quote an interview with the authors that mentions it:

And that brings us to the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.
The amazon description of that book says it's "an entertaining, practical guide to effective communication. Drawing extensively on psychosocial studies on memory, emotion and motivation, their study is couched in terms of "stickiness"—that is, the art of making ideas unforgettable."

3) '[On Writing] Describing a slice instead of the whole pie'
Here’s a look at how four great writers describe an amazing athlete. Note how all three spotlight a single play to explain a larger idea. By zeroing in on a specific moment, they are able to explain to readers what general, big picture platitudes can’t.
4) What being a speechwriter is like, and how it's similar to doing graphic design.

Favourite Recipes: Lamb Shanks with Dates and Pumpkin

Lamb Shanks with Dates and Pumpkin, served with Mashed Potatoes

It's a good one for entertaining.

Adapted from a recipe in Good Taste magaine, June 2002.

Serves 8, Prep 25 mins, Cooking: 1 hr 40 mins
(This is how long the shanks take to cook, but the mashed potato can be made while the shanks are simmering, so they don't have to end up adding mcuh to the time.
Note also that you need quite a large dish to fit 8 shanks - I often halve the quantities of the ingredients).

  • For the lamb shanks
    • lamb shanks, 8, French trimmed
    • plain flour, to coat
    • jap pumpkin, 600g, peeled, deseeded
    • veg oil, 2 tbsp
    • sauce flavourings
      • brown onion, 1, finely chopped
      • stock
        • boiling water, 750 ml (3 cups)
        • chicken stock cubes, 2 large, crumbled
      • dry red wine, 250ml (1 cup)
        Wine suggestion: Lamb shanks need a full-bodied South Australian red.
      • whole peeled tomatoes, 400g, crushed
      • whole pitted dried dates, 150g (1 cup), halved
      • cinnamon stick, 1, 7cm
    • salt and ground black pepper
    • fresh continental parsley, 2 tbsp, chopped
    • mashed potato, to serve

  • For the mashed-potatoes
    • evenly-sized medium unpeeled potatoes, 700g
      best potatoes to mash: kind edwards, pink eye, pontiac and sebago (brushed).
      Use evenly sized potatoes so they all cook in the same amount of time, resulting in a smoother mash.
    • salt, ½ tsp
    • butter, 100g, at room temperature, chopped
    • milk, 100ml
    • salt and ground black pepper

  • Cooking lamb shanks
    • Preparation: cutting pumpkin and preparing stock
      • Cut pumpkin lengthways into four 2cm-thick wedges. Cut each wedge in half crossways.
      • Combine the boiling water and crumbled stock cubes in a heatproof jug. Stir to combine and set aside until required.
    • Brown the lamb shanks
      • Place the flour onto a large plate and coat the lamb shanks all over with the flour. Shake off any excess.
      • Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole dish over medium-high heat.
      • Add the lamb and cook, turning occasionally, for 2-3 minutes or until well browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
    • Frying the onions
      • Add onion to pan and cook, stirring, for 2 mins or until onion is soft.
    • Slow-cooking the dish
      • Return lamb shanks to pan with reserved chicken stock, red wine, tomatoes, dates and cinnamon stick, and bring to the boil.
      • Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covereed, turning lamb shanks occasionally, for 45 mins.
        while this is cooking, you can make the mashed potato - see recipe below
      • Add the pumpkin and simmer, uncovered, for 35 mins or until the pumpkin is tender and sauce thickens slightly.
    • Serving
      • Divide the mashed potato among serving plates. Top with lamp shanks mixture and sprinkle with parsley.

  • For cooking mashed potato
    • Wash the potatoes
      • to remove any excess dirt
      • and being careful not to break the skin
    • Cook the potatoes
      • Place the whole potatoes in a large saucepan
        (Cooking the potatoes in their skin, and not piecing them too often during cooking, stops them absorbing too much water, which can result in broken up and flavourless potatoes, and a watery mash.)
      • Cover them with cold water
      • Add the salt
      • Cover and bring to the boil over high heat.
      • Remove the lid and reduce heat to medium-high.
      • Boil, uncovered, for 30 mins or until the potatoes are soft when tested with a skewer.
    • Dry and peel potatoes
      • Transfer the potatoes to a colander with a slotted spoon.
      • Set them aside for 5 mins to cool sightly.
      • Drain the water from the pan.
      • Once the poatoes are cool enough to handle, use a small sharp knife to peel and discard the skins.
      • Return the potatoes to the dry saucepan.
      • Shake the saucepn over low heat for 1-2 mins to remove any remaining moisture from the potatoes.
    • Mash potatoes
      • Using a potato masher
        (avoid using a food processor to mash them as they will end up being gluggy).

    • Add seasinings and falvourings.
      • Add the butter and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth.
      • Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, for 4 mins or until milk is hot (being careful not to boil).
      • Gradually add the hot milk to the potatoes and continue to mash until smooth.
      • Taste and season with salt and pepper.
        Serve immediately.

Mashed potato variations

Garlic-infused mashed potato
Peel and thinly slice 4 garlic cloves and add with teh milk in step 5 before heating. Strain the hot milk and discard the garlic before using.

Creamy herbed mash
Stir 2 tbs finely chopped fresh continental parsley and 1 tbs chopped fresh chives into the mashed potato in step 6 before seasoning.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Patient managed e-health records

Michael Lawley has a sensible-sounding suggestion for electronic health records: rather than trying to implement some top-down, nation-wide system, let the patients take responsibility for their own data, just as they do with their financial records. Presumably, the patient could choose to pass this control to a third-party service.

Article: government funding overemphasises the utility of research collaboration

IT researcher Ricky Robinson writes:

Why, then, do so many Australian government funded research organisations emphasize the need for research collaboration, when all the evidence shows that few significant scientific breakthroughs have come through such collaboration? Granted, there needs to be some kind of collaboration between research institutions and industry when it comes to exploiting the results of research, but this is a completely different thing, and it comes at a later stage in the development of a research idea.